What a Drag: A Few Words About RuPaul and Trans Representation in Media

I wanted to write a few words about RuPaul’s Drag Race, and GLAAD’s pushback against the defamatory language used on that program last week.

I write here not in my official capacity as GLAAD’s co-chair of the board, but as an individual.

First off, I want to thank all of you for the support you have shown me as this story has developed.  The encouragement you showed me made a big difference.

Looking at the statement released by the show’s production company today, as well as the one from the LOGO network, I feel there are reasons to celebrate, as well as things that disappoint me.  In any case, there is plenty of work still lying ahead.

I can say that I see today’s statements as a beginning of what I hope is a long process. Quite frankly, it had better be.

That RuPaul and company say that they are “newly sensitized” to the complexity of trans peoples’ lives is pleasant.  I am hoping we’ll see more evidence of this as we move forward.

But this statement  did seem to me to be something of a non-apology, and that leaves me dispirited.  “Newly sensitized” is great— but you had to not be listening very hard to trans women in the first place to have produced a segment like this and been blind to the way it would be received.

The discourse around trans lives has, in many ways, moved on past RuPaul and this show.  I can say this even while celebrating the energy in drag that so many of us applaud.

But trans women’s noble, complex, difficult, joyous lives should not be confused with the lives of drag performers, and this simple fact seems to elude many of the folks behind this program.  This gruesome episode represented a real tipping point for lots of trans people,  who have grown weary of their lives being reduced to a cartoon.

A stronger statement was what I had hoped for, and, given the very long time it seemed to take to deliver this statement, seemed rather anemic to me.

A thing that’s very positive, though, is that trans people’s voices were at least heard here, even if the results were not as dramatic as we had wished.  It was the pressure that trans people exerted since that execrable segment aired that got LOGO’s attention, not to mention the pressure that GLAAD kept on them.

GLAAD’s work began the day after the show first aired.  We chose to conduct this work out of the public eye, in hopes of producing results.  We do that all the time; being quiet while we allow our staff to do the work has been very successful for us in the past.

I’m cheered by the statement LOGO made that they will be airing stories, in the future, that shows the complexities of all kinds of trans peoples’ lives.  I look forward to seeing those shows.

More important to me is a commitment LOGO made that is not reflected in their public statement—- that they are not going to using the word “t——“ on any of their programming again, going forward.  It will be GLAAD’s responsibility to hold them to their word.

They’ve also committed to putting an end to other anti-trans language on thier network.

So those things feel like wins to me.  The wan official statements are discouraging;  I am hoping that what we’ll see from here on out shows that LOGO did hear trans peoples voices, as amplified by GLAAD, this last week.

This is, to coin a phrase, not your father’s GLAAD, and this is not the work that was being done a decade ago.  One reason why I think we’ve been able to make a little progress is that GLAAD is now largely run by trans people.  We occupy positions from staff to volunteers to the board of directors, including its national co-chair, which is me.  These are our lives we are talking about; the people demeaned by incidents like this one are the men and women who work here.  And other cis staff members have been working for trans rights for years and years now.  I am proud of the board and staff for their passion.

You can learn about just some of the highlights of GLAAD’s work on trans media representations here , and on our blog here .

So like I said, it’s a mixed bag for me, especially after all the many, many hours of work— but in the end the most important thing is this:  This marks a beginning, not an end.

Thanks to everyone.  I promise to keep the pressure on, and to keep working for the goals we all share.   For me, this is personal.

JFB

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3 Comments

  1. DonnaL
    Posted March 29, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your efforts, Jenny, as disappointing and discouraging as I found LOGO’s statement to be. This was the most LOGO was willing to say after almost two weeks? It didn’t even rise to the standard level of faux-pology!

    I am somewhat heartened by the news that LOGO has, at least privately, committed to not using the T word going forward. I wonder about the s**-m*** word, which is just as bad. When people watch the next new episode of Drag Race on Monday evening, will they still hear “you’ve got she-mail!”? Or will it be cut out of the broadcast, something that I have no doubt they could do if they really wanted to?

    I won’t hold my breath!

    And I am someone who generally enjoys the show, and loves to talk about it every week with my 23-year old gay son, and took him to see show alumnae Latrice Royale and Dida Ritz at a gay bar in Chicago the night he graduated from the U of C two years ago to celebrate, and is well aware that there are many trans women who’ve gotten their start doing drag., and have met drag queens who consider themselves trans. And I don’t for a moment consider drag to be inherently misogynistic or trans-misogynistic. (I’m frankly amazed when trans women make the latter claim, since it’s exactly what transphobes say about us.)

    Nor, obviously, do I agree for a moment with the homophobic comments that some trans women make about “cis gay men,” or the belief some seem to have that most gay men are transphobic. I can attest that that I haven’t seen anything remotely suggesting that’s true for gay men around my son’s age, at least among those I’ve met — even the ones he hasn’t told about my history!

    But what just happened? It was horrible — as my son agrees completely — and the failure to apologize is pretty much unforgivable.

    Donna

  2. Karin Stahl
    Posted March 29, 2014 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Jenny, for your elegant and inspiring message that is TRANSformative.

  3. Posted March 29, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I felt the same way here so reading this was helpful .And we appreciate your saying it ,speaking for our youth and all trans people, and being honest. Our youth felt offended by this and we were contacted by many. We wrote a complaint about it to GLAAD and never heard back. I would have hoped for a response and we and the public had no way to know they even cared and were trying. Perhaps when an org writes they can respond as we represent many.
    We were offended that there was no apology and found that aggressive or arrogant. Unusual. Luke warm, yes, baby step toward progress, yes. Thanks for your effort.
    Susan Maasch
    Executive Director , Trans Youth Equality Foundation

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